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Roger Casement says poverty in Connemara is ‘worst in civilised world’
Poverty in Picturesque Ireland: A view across Killary Bay in Connemara. Roger Casement has described the people’s plight here as a battle ‘for existence’. Photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Roger Casement says poverty in Connemara is ‘worst in civilised world’

National effort required to relieve 'abandoned people'

Dublin, 13 June 1913 - Roger Casement has spoken of his sorrow at the scenes of poverty and distress he witnessed on a recent visit to Connemara.

Mr Casement was knighted for reports into human rights abuses in South America and has previously written a report documenting evidence of cruelty and mutilation of natives in the Congo.

Speaking of the conditions in Connemara, he said: ‘I have nowhere seen, even in the most primitive regions, a population housed as many of these people are, or battling for existence with a soil so incapable in itself of supporting human life.’ These were, he said, ‘ the most-miserably situated rural communities that any civilised country holds today.’

Roger Casement, who has described in vivid terms the impoverished conditions in Connemara (National Library of Ireland, Ke 009)

Evidence for this misery lay all around. At the infant school in Carraroe, Mr Casement was met by a local priest, Fr Healy: ‘When I visited a few days ago there were 160 infants on the rolls – little boys and girls alike clad, or half-clad, in homespun skirts. Many were absent because they had no clothes.’

Fr Healy said that, at a cost of 1d. per day, a meal could be provided for all such children to ensure they were fed before going home to hungry homes. When a previous donation to the school had allowed for bread to be provided at lunchtime, attendance had increased to 150 per day.

Want of education is compounded by want of employment and the only answer seems to be emigration: ‘America has been, and is, the great relieving officer of Connemara.’

A view of Recess in Connemara ca 1900 (National Library of Ireland, LCAB 07393)

Mr Casement met a teacher in a lace-making class – set up in an attempt to promote local industry – and asked her of the impact of six years of her initiative: ‘Of 36 girls she began with in 1907, 23 to her knowledge have gone to America, 3 are dead and a possible 10 remain in Ireland.’

Mr Casement acknowledged the complexities of the problem and the failure of relief efforts to date, and stressed the need for a deep and concerted plan of action to help ‘these abandoned people.’

He continued: ‘Private help may still relieve urgent cases of want; but it is the entire district that demands sustained national effort to right a wrong that the present generation of Irish people have inherited from an evil past.’

Mr Casement concluded: ‘It might be said that a considerable area, inhabited by many thousands of people, lies on the verge of chronic famine and that many households, penned in animal shelters, dwell in dread of recurrent sickness.’

[Editor's note: This is an article from Century Ireland, a fortnightly online newspaper, written from the perspective of a journalist 100 years ago, based on news reports of the time.]


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.